By Sean Wood
It’s becoming the norm to step into a leadership role, unofficially, before attaining an official management title – or authority. So how do you make that work?
“Leadership is not about titles, positions or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another.”
John C. Maxwell, American Author, Speaker and Pastor
Congratulations! Your manager is impressed with your abilities, and you’ve been asked to lead a change initiative in your organization. But there’s a catch: the success of the project depends on a team of people pulled from different areas of the organization, over whom you have no authority.
As organizations become flatter, this scenario is becoming more common. Navigating the minefield of managing a team or project without formal authority is challenging and, if not handled correctly, often results in failure to achieve the desired results. So, what’s the best way to proceed?
It’s All About Trust
Building trust is foundational to the success of the team, but with diverse personalities, communication styles and job titles, where does one even start? Heck, you don’t even know some of these people! We asked Lindsay Chamberlain, a longtime instructor at the Center for Professional Education, for her insights and recommendations:
1. Do you have a “go-to” first step that you use to plant the seeds of trust?
Chamberlain: I always work to transparently establish roles, goals and expectations. This provides a shared understanding of who we are, why we are working together and what we want to achieve. It’s a great place to start!
2. What are the top two mistakes you’ve seen people make that resulted in a loss of trust?
Chamberlain: One of the most common ways I see people lose trust is a lack of consistency. People really want to count on others to act in a consistent manner regardless of the situation or who is around. It’s partly doing what you say you will do, but it’s also acting consistently with your messaging, that is “walking the talk”. For example, if a leader says that they have an open-door policy and welcomes feedback but then they’re never around, trust will disintegrate on the team. The interesting thing is, it really doesn’t matter if the leader has a valid reason for not being around, like meetings. The action and words aren’t consistent and that damages trust.
The second big mistake I see people make is approaching conversations and interactions with an “Us vs. Them” mentality. When a person comes to an exchange thinking the goal is winning rather than collaborating, the other participants quickly learn to put their guard up. From the start, trust has been damaged.
3. How do you deal with people who are resistant to extending trust, which in turn, impacts the effectiveness of the team?
Chamberlain: When someone has open mistrust or is resistant to extending trust, I try to understand what is behind the mistrust – fear of loss, fear of vulnerability or something else entirely. I might surprise a team member by asking what they thought could go wrong in a project or relationship, why a change might fail, or what they see as the worst-case scenario. By starting off asking about the team member’s perspective, you build a safe place to start working on an open and trusting relationship.
If you are interested in taking one of Lindsay’s classes to learn more about building your management and leadership skills, take a look at our upcoming courses or reach out to and Enrollment and Success Coordinator.
Sean Wood is the owner of Three 8 Communications and previously worked for Sensis TX. He has over 30 years of writing experience and conducts media training sessions with numerous corporate executives.
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